Gendered Materiality is the first solo exhibition by Leeds-based artist Katherine James. See it at Left Bank from 16-30 October 2020.
The show explores the meanings and associations we make with materials, and the ways these can be applied to create an understanding of gender. Katherine’s practice is centred around contemporary craft and for this curated show she presents her varied series of chain mail lace works, including a large sculptural piece, contemporary art jewellery and photographic works, which were staged here at Left Bank Leed
Material properties are often used in design to convey messages about gender. Soft colours and organic shapes, suggesting caring and gentle characteristics, are associated with feminine products. In contrast, straight edges and metallic properties suggest functionality and strength, which are more often associated with masculine products. These subtle but harmful messages promote binary gender expectations, failing to reflect the fluid and complex nature of gender identity.
Katherine’s chain mail works seek to expose this nuance of gender by combining materials considered to have opposing associations and materiality – chain mail and lace. The former is protective, hard and aggressive, traits typically glorified as masculine, whereas the latter is delicate, pretty, seductive and associated with femininity.
By crafting the metal properties into lace form, the extreme binary characteristics become enmeshed and inseparable. This chain mail lace material reflects the nature of gender identity as something that cannot be split so simply into categories. On a secondary level, the work explores gender attitudes within craft. It draws a direct comparison between the metallic links of chain mail and the fibre-based links of crochet-lace, revealing how the processes are remarkably similar.
Katherine James studied Art and Design at Leeds University. She was awarded the Berkofsky Arts Award in 2020 and has created this exhibition with the generous support of the Berkofsky Estate. She describes her work as material-led and often seeks to expand contemporary craft techniques, creating new processes and ways to make meaning from matter.